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SP - Valley on the Sun JCC Early Childhood Center

Scottsdale, Arizona

Miracles can happen above ground as well as under

When Valley on the Sun received grant money from Whole Kids Foundation to begin a garden, they knew it would be fun and educational for their students. But they were gratified to learn the project went far beyond that.

A parent donated wood and labor and built four raised garden boxes. Eight 4x8 raised beds were added. Grant funds went toward soil; the school also purchased and planted seeds, seedlings, and flowers, as well as compost and hoses.

Students were taught about the seasons of a garden and when certain vegetables are planted and harvested. After the summertime crops were picked, the children planted hardy fall crops such as broocoli, cauliflower, and several varieties of cabbage. The students tasted some vegetables raw, and were given instruction on how to cook others.

The school's primary achievement "was the children learning to taste and like new veggies," says garden coordinator Trish Beattie. "Our goal was for them to not only to at least to taste them but to want to eat them. This was evident when the doors of the playground opened and they ran to the sugar snap peas and gobbled them up on a daily basis. The vegetables could not grow fast enough for them to eat. It was exhilarating to see the delight on their faces when they discovered they liked them."

Valley on the Sun reached another goal when they integrated garden skills with other courses of study. Sorting and planting taught them math skills. Working with worms—the ones that benefit the garden and the ones that snack on it—taught them science skills. They also developed social skills and responsibility by taking turns, sharing, and working together.

"We wanted to create a sense of community with our students," Trish says. "Through gardening they learn to work together as teams to create life….It taught them responsibility and how to be caregivers. They did not argue or fight while they worked in they garden. It created a calming space for them."

Perhaps best of all are the lessons that can be applied going forward. In planting, harvesting, and enjoying foods grown themselves, the students developed pride in a job well done. "When they grow it themselves and prepare it they get a sense of pride and self-worth. It is tremendous for their self-esteem," Trish says. Valley on the Sun teachers are hopeful the gardening experience will encourage students to make healthy food choices throughout their lives—and so far, it's proven successful.

"We had so many parents coming to thank us because their children were now eating vegetables at home. Some families had even said that the children had shown so much interest in the gardens that they had decided to plant a garden at home," Trish says.

Among many other plans, the school hopes to bring grandparents and children together in the garden. It's a beautiful expression of hope: two generations planting, reaping, and working together—and enjoying the fruits of their labor.